This motorship, 225.0 x 37.9 x 16.0, 1539 Gross and 694 Net, was built in 1957 at Grangemouth, England, by the Grangemouth Dockyard Company Ltd., Hull 513. Originally named ETHEL EVERARD, she was owned and operated by F. T. Eve-rard and Sons Ltd., London. She was sold in 1962 to New Zealand Cement Holdings Ltd., Dunedin, N. Z., and in 1963 she was renamed (b) GUARDIAN CARRIER and was converted to a cement carrier for the New Zealand trade. The St. Lawrence Cement Company Ltd., Port Credit, purchased her in 1977, bringing her to the lakes and renaming her (c) ROBERT KOCH. She operated as a motorship in the cement trade, mainly between Clarkson and Buffalo, until she was converted to a barge in 1984 by the addition of a "pushing notch" on her stern.
The KOCH was on her last trip of the 1985 season, with 2, 000 tons of cement consigned to the Independent Cement Company at Oswego. It was normal practice for the tug to push the KOCH using the stern notch, but on this occasion, R. & L. NO. 1 had the barge out on the "string" because of the heavy seas that were running on Lake Ontario.
As the tow approached Oswego, the towing cable parted. The tug put a crew on the barge to attempt to secure the KOCH by dropping her anchor, the thought being that the barge could then ride out the storm on the lake and the tug could return for her when weather conditions moderated, and take her into Oswego. Unfortunately, by the next morning, December 16th, the KOCH had drifted eastward about a mile down the lake and had grounded on a rocky shelf, covered with mud, at a location known as Sheldon's Point. The vessel stranded about 300 yards offshore, behind the Hammermill Paper plant. The pounding of the KOCH on the rocks in the heavy seas caused severe hull damage and she began to take water in her holds. Soon the engineroom began to flood as well, and the ship settled on the bottom, all the while taking on a heavy coating of ice over her hull and superstructure as the waves broke against her. The tug, with U. S. Coast Guard and pollution control officials aboard, made several trips to the site, and pumped off some 4, 000 gallons of bunker fuel that had been aboard the barge, thus reducing the threat of a fuel spill.
The Independent Cement Company, a subsidiary of St. Lawrence Cement, declared the KOCH's cement cargo to be a loss, considering the extent of the flooding of the hull. Nelson Cassavaugh, manager of the Independent Cement facility as Oswego, said that he anticipated that the parent company would declare the KOCH to be a constructive total loss, and that "she probably will remain there until spring because it's too dangerous to try to haul her off now". That has now become a reality for the KOCH, which is resting in only sixteen feet of water.
Whether ROBERT KOCH will survive the winter gales, lying on the lee shore of the lake as she is, poses an interesting question, although the hull is supposedly of very strong construction. Salvage of the ship will be a problem, not only because she is in such little water, but because she is stuck firmly in the mud which covers the rock shelf, and accordingly there is considerable suction exerted upon the hull by the mud.
Although it has been more than half a century since an accident of this magnitude has occurred at Oswego, it was not uncommon in the "old days" for ships to drift off to the east of the harbour entrance in heavy weather, there to become casualties. It is known that at least fifty schooners met their fate on the rocks in that area.
The last major casualty in the vicinity of Oswego was the small steamer ISABELLA H. (U. S. 213102), 100. 8 x 25. 9 x 11. 1, 248 Gross, 141 Net. Originally (a) McCORMICK, she had been abandoned as unfit in June of 1911 at Chaumont, N. Y., and there in 1915 she was rebuilt by Frank Phelps for Capt. Augustus R. Hinckley. On September 28, 1925. she sank off the Oswego entrance, with the loss of one member of her crew. Like the KOCH, the sunken ISABELLA H. came to rest squarely on a flat rock, and her wooden hull eventually broke apart.
Another major grounding in the area since the turn of the century was that of the wooden steamer DAVID W. MILLS, (a) SPARTA, (U. S. 115242). Built in 1874, she was 202.3 x 34.0 x 18.5, 1017 Gross and 819 Net. Owned by Captain Frank J. Peterson of Cleveland, who had just purchased her early in 1919. she lost her way in a fog on August 11, 1919, and missed the Oswego piers. She grounded on Ford Shoal, some four miles west of the entrance, and despite several attempts to free her, she pounded to pieces where she lay. To this day, a marker warns boaters of the navigation hazard caused by a portion of the MILLS' boiler which lies close to the surface of the lake.
It is to be hoped that ROBERT KOCH will have better fortune than either ISABELLA H. or DAVID W. MILLS, but the exposed position of the ship does not bode well for her survival, and we doubt that what remains of her next season will be worth salvage efforts, particularly if the foul weather and strong down-lake winds of the early winter continue.
Reproduced for the Web with the permission of the Toronto Marine Historical Society.